Embracing the PA Dutch and Amish Culture of Lancaster
Simple life of folks in Amish country
Oct 31, 2019 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do by
The Dutch in Pennsylvania Dutch refers to Deutsch or Deitsch as in the people from Germany and their language. Indeed many from southern Germany, Austria and even parts of Switzerland settled in this part of Pennsylvania during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Fleeing religious intolerance at home, these Germanic people were free to practice their beliefs as they wished in Pennsylvania. German “colonies” were also established in other states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and the Dakotas, although Pennsylvania saw the greatest number of settlers.
By the time World War I seized the nation, these people were encouraged to assimilate more. Then with the onslaught of World War II, speaking the German language and practicing German traditions on American soil became increasingly verboten. Today the Amish, a specific religious denomination within the Pennsylvania Dutch people, are among the few to speak Pennsylfanisch Deitsch on a more regular basis, a language that you can hear being spoken when you pass or encounter some of these folks in and around Lancaster County. As for all the wonderful traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch, many have thankfully been preserved, which is largely what makes Lancaster County, the city of Lancaster and its jumble of small towns and villages so charming to visitors and locals alike.
The fertile and naturally-irrigated soil of the region made farming a way of life early on for the settlers, an agrarian tradition that continues today. Yes, that is much of what makes Lancaster County so beautiful and bucolic. As you drive (or pedal) through this pastoral landscape, you notice how every speck of land–from a large field of hay to a tiny patch of garden–has been meticulously maintained. This, too, is characteristic of the people from this region:The Pennsylvania Dutch are hardworking, orderly and if you happen to stop to ask for directions, you’ll find out that they are also very kind.
Thankfully, in many ways, Lancaster County of today is still as lovely as how it was so poignantly portrayed in the 1980s blockbuster, “Witness.” This movie, featuring Harrison Ford, revealed the beauty and simplicity of the Amish people like it had never been shown before. Tourism to the area soared after that, yet despite the increase in “outsiders,” much of the region has remained authentic and unspoiled. Now there are more visitors, however, the Amish for the most part, have continued with many of their age-old traditions. Translation:Yes, you might see an Amish family at a big box store but they likely pulled up in their horse and buggy.
You can actually ride in an authentic Amish buggy and learn more about the Amish ways with Abe’s Buggy Rides in Bird-in-Hand, a cute town worth the visit. It’s a great way to slow down, take in the nature and learn about sites that you pass, some that date as far back as the 1700s. Crafts made by local Amish are also for sale at the horse barn.
Many of the establishments in the region have animals available for petting–no kidding. That’s proof of how delightfully rural life is around here. There’s even a petting zoo at the Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop, a long-established bakery that makes all kinds of delicious baked goods from fruit pies to sticky buns. Good news, too:They do quite the online business. Yum-my! I wonder if they feed the animals the day–olds?
If you want to make your own delicious fruit pies or just revel in fresh produce and more specialty items, stop at Kauffman’s Fruit Farm & Market, another long-established Pennsylvania Dutch business, also in Bird–in–Hand.
For a more in depth Amish experience, take a tour at The Amish Village in Ronks. While touring around their 12-acre property–by foot or in one of their busses–you can have an up close look at how the Amish have lived in Lancaster County for over 300 years. And guess what? In addition to having an historic barn, they also have lots of barnyard animals, including goats, sheep, horses, cows, donkeys, ducks, pigs–well, let’s just say the whole Old McDonald collection. Children and adults love to discover and embrace this simpler way of life.
If you’re hungry, stop in at Miller’s Restaurant & Smorgasbord, also in Ronks. A real Pennsylvania Dutch institution, they’ve been serving up tasty and large quantities of food since 1929.
Lititz is one of the sweetest towns in Lancaster County. It’s only six miles north of the city of Lancaster. It’s rooted in centuries-old history yet is known for its lilting spirit due to its vibrant array of eateries, shops and events. Julius Sturgis, America’s first pretzel bakery is a must. It has been in continuous operation since its founding in 1861. The building where the first bakery was housed, however, dates back to 1784 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Learn more about this, the origins of pretzels and how they are made on one of their tours. Lots of goodies to shop for here as well. If possible, plan to be in Lititz on a Thursday evening (during the summer season) to attend their Farmer’s Market. In addition to fresh food products, they sell lots of Pennsylvania Dutch crafts and usually have entertainment–what a fun time!
Imagine what life was like for kids before video games. You can envision that very well at Lapp’s Toys, a wonderland of a store in Lancaster that showcases all kinds of handmade, wooden toys from Pennsylvania Dutch country. It’s a dream come true.
When you think of Germany, you think of beer. That tradition has carried through in Pennsylvania Dutch country where you can find a good number of breweries that serve up delicious beer and authentic food and ambiance. Most are located in Lancaster, once known as the Little Munich of the West.
These highlights only scratch the surface of all of the heartwarming bits of Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish culture you can find in Lancaster County. Have fun discovering more on your own!